By KEVIN J. KELLEY
The Uganda government is calling on the United Nations to send troops to Somalia to replace its Uganda People’s Defence Force detachment, which has been unable to restore order in Mogadishu.
Addressing the UN Security Council last week, Uganda ambassador Francis Butagira said the handover “should be done now, not postponed to a future date.”
He urged the Council, “To liberate itself from the traditional approach of not authorising peacekeeping operations when there is no peace to keep.” The UN must intervene in place of the UPDF even though Somalia remains in turmoil, Mr Butagira said.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed in Mogadishu in recent months, and many thousands have fled the capital amid worsening violence.
Uganda’s call for a more aggressive form of UN military action was echoed last week by Kenya.
Zachary Muburi-Muita, Nairobi’s UN emissary, declared during the same August 27 debate that the Security Council’s current policy on peacekeeping is “untenable.” The Kenyan diplomat did not specifically mention Somalia, but he pointed out that countries in conflict that allow outside forces to intervene are seeking “to create peace, not to keep it.”
About 1,800 Ugandan soldiers are now in Somalia. This contingent is supposed to be part of an 8,000-strong African Union force authorised by the United Nations last year. But Uganda remains the only nation to have committed troops to the AU’s Somalia operation, and Kampala is now clearly eager to end its lonely role in a chaotic country that has been without effective governance for the past 16 years.
Logistical and financial issues account in part for the failure of other African nations to supplement the UPDF detachment in Somalia. But reluctance to be seen as abetting Ethiopia’s US-backed occupation of Somalia is another important reason for African states’ reluctance to join this AU mission.
The United States has also sent troops into Somalia and carried out bombing runs in co-ordination with Ethiopian forces. Washington says it is hunting for Al Qaeda-linked militants responsible for the 1998 Nairobi and Dar es Salaam embassy bombings.
Critics in Uganda have accused the government of putting UPDF soldiers in harm’s way in Somalia mainly in order to curry favour with the United States. The Bush administration has lauded Uganda’s involvement in Somalia and has urged other African countries to contribute troops to the AU mission.
President Yoweri Museveni gives no public indication that he is rethinking his decision to send 1,800 Ugandan soldiers to Somalia. Indeed, the government announced recently that it would dispatch an additional 250 troops to Mogadishu.
But Mr Butagira’s remarks in Washington last week strongly suggest that Kampala will not be willing much longer to serve as the AU’s sole military force inside Somalia.
Uganda appears disconcerted that several African nations are now rushing to pledge troops to an expanded peacekeeping operation in Sudan’s Darfur region even as they fail to make good on promises to help in Somalia.
The United Nations and the African Union say they will soon jointly deploy a 26,000-strong force in Darfur in what would be one of the largest UN-backed peacekeeping operations in its history.
The Security Council has also begun discussing a possible military intervention in Somalia in place of the nominal AU mission there. The 15-nation Council led by the world’s most powerful countries asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month to draw up contingency plans for a UN deployment in Somalia. But the Council specified no timeline for such a handover and it simultaneously approved a six-month extension of the AU’s mandate to operate in Somalia.